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Lack of regulation kills 80,000 every year

Katie Coyne04/05/2016 - 14:02

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Regulation 'saves lives'
Regulation 'saves lives'

Thousands of people are dying needlessly every year due to unchecked pollution, food poisoning and a lack of health and safety checks, according to an influential think tank.

Some 80,000 deaths annually were attributed to a lack of effective regulation according to the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies report.

It found 29,000 deaths are attributed to the effects of airborne pollution in the UK, while foodborne illness results in 20,000 hospital admissions and 500 deaths. Meanwhile, 50,000 deaths are attributed to injuries or health problems originating in the workplace, although the report stressed that the above figures were underestimates.

The report 'Better Regulation': Better for whom? argued that regulation had become a ‘dirty word’ and a drive to cut red tape, combined with austerity measures and the increasing involvement of private companies in regulation, had severely reduced the effectiveness of the agencies designed to protect the public.

These included local authority environmental health departments, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive. The report found that the average business can expect to be visited by a local health and safety inspector once every 20 years. 

Author of the report, Professor Steve Tombs, said: ‘This is not a story about rules, regulations, red tape. It is a story about social harm and social inequality – lives lost and shortened, the health of communities, workers, consumers made poorer.

Read EHN's Q&A with Prof Tombs here.

To summarise, the report argued that regulation now proceeds ‘virtually’ without enforcement which it claimed is a result of the political initiative, ‘Better Regulation’, rolled out by Labour, Coalition and Conservative Governments. It added that the politics of anti-regulation have been overlain by the economics of austerity and that this has ‘particularly impacted upon regulation and enforcement’ at the level of local authorities.

The report added: ‘Private businesses are increasingly involved in the business of regulation. The agencies of social protection – such as the national Health and Safety Executive or Local Authority Environmental Health Offices - have been radically transformed to the extent that they are either unable to perform their statutory duties, or now perform protection for rather than from business, or both.

‘Overall, these developments have left workers, consumers and local communities more vulnerable to business-generated harms, while exacerbating economic and social inequalities.’

The report found huge reductions in the number of EHO’s, which resulted in a loss of specialist expertise and a move towards more generalists. However, the latter trend was being hampered with a lack of available vocational training to support this move. The number of prosecutions was also on the decline.

Prof Tombs interviewed 35 EHOs from across Merseyside, during 2014/15 and found: ‘With fewer staff, it is hardly surprising that many interviewees raised the issues of a long-term decline in inspection, a long term decline in the use of formal enforcement tools, and a decreasing use of prosecution.

‘On the latter, another clear message from the data was of increasing obstacles to the ability to prosecute. The latter included: a lack of staff time; fear of losing cases; lack of support from legal services departments to prosecute; and an increased political risk (‘flak’) in prosecuting.

The report was also critical of what it termed the ‘creeping influence of the private sector’ in regulation via training. Due to a lack of funding in local authority environmental health departments students have been increasingly unable to find funded placements – a crucial part of their course. This has meant students have had to find placements in the private sector.

Prof Tombs said: ‘Obviously, and as was said to me, this also means that the values and perspectives of the private sector, the regulated, are prioritised for the student EHO over those of the regulator. In such subtle ways are the mind-sets and thus practices of a profession shifted.’

The report also criticised the Primary Authority scheme arguing that while EHO’s don’t think they work particularly well to regulate food premises they are left chasing these contracts to plug funding gaps.

Prof Tombs said: ‘Here we find clear instances of politics meeting economics – and, in their combination, changing the role of local regulation and enforcement, perhaps irrevocably. This not only undermines the idea that regulation is something which is aimed at controlling business, but it creates an increasing democratic deficit, as public services designed for social protection come under ever increasing private influence.’

The reports findings on EHO inspections: 2003/04 – 2012/13 

Local Environmental Health Officers enforcing food safety and hygiene law undertook:
● 12% fewer food hygiene inspections
● 34% fewer food standards inspections

● 28% fewer prosecutions

Local Environmental Health Officers enforcing health and safety law undertook:

● 90% fewer preventative inspections
● 56% fewer total inspections

● 40% fewer prosecutions, resulting in 38% fewer successful convictions 

Local Environmental Health Officers enforcing local pollution control law undertook
● 48% fewer ‘Part B’ Inspection Visits
● and 30% fewer ‘Part B’ Notices (Notices rather than prosecutions are used, since the latter are so few – there were five in 2013/14 and three the previous year)

For declining rates of inspection from the EA and HSE see page four of the report, which is in full here.





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